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At Chicago Newsroom, we like to talk about the week’s local news and about local journalism. We think of our show as a conversation about this week’s Chicago.

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CN April 18 2019

 

It’s politics and open lands on Chicago Newsroom this week.

Producer David Resnick joins the discussion as political and communications specialist Peter Cunningham talks with us about the immediate political scene in Chicago.

We ask, in light of today’s news that Chicago has suffered yet another population loss, if Governor Rauner was right when he blamed the exodus on excessive tax in the state.

“I don’t think that’s true,” Cunningham begins. “It may be one factor but there’s a lot of other factors. Immigration has slowed down, that’s one issue. Birth rates are actually a factor. It’s contributing to the under-enrollment in the Chicago public schools. Those are two factors. I think the third is … the emptying out of the South and West sides, the African American community at an alarming rate. It’s about 400,000 fewer African Americans in Chicago today than in 1980, and I imagine there’s a lot contributing to that from crimes to schools to lack of opportunities, to just organic movement out to the suburbs, things that were not an option for urban blacks back in the 60s and 70s, started to become an option in the 80s and 90s. So a lot going on there and I think it’s an existential threat frankly to Chicago to see whole neighborhoods emptied out.”

“When we did this campaign with Bill Daley,” he continues, (Cunningham managed Bill Daley’s recent Mayoral campaign) “we talked a lot about getting Chicago back up to three million people. It used to be 3.6-million. It’s now 2.7. There has been an influx of whites but the loss of blacks is in the decline in growth in the Latino community or both contributing to essentially a flat population base. And I think that when you think about our problems in the city from under-enrollment in the schools, emptying out the schools to extreme costs that are burdening us, some related to pension, some of them just related to just debt, some of them related to just overspending. You know increasing the population, increasing the size of the city, the activity is you know part of the answer.”

Cunningham also talks about how Lightfoot’s election was a curious “north-side revolution” and how it represented a hard-to-define anger in majority-white sections of he city.

“People are catalyzed by anger, ” Resnick adds.” I think that Peter alluded to that but I think it’s something that we need to bring in to full relief. People were mad when they voted and the anger was expressed by the “throw them out” attitude. And I think that Lori Lightfoot was a beneficiary to that.”

 

In our second segment, Openlands CEO Jerry Adelmann talks about the environmental challenges the Chicago region faces in  the coming years. And there are lots of them.

He talks specifically about the challenge of recovering  degraded lots or former industrial spaces, for example.

“Well, he says, “One of our founders said early on you have to save a site at least three times, because there’s always threats and issues and things.” Reclaiming a site and then maintaining it for years afterward, he explains, is an enormous challenge.

Adelmann also talks about Openlands’ involvement in the struggle to save Deer Grove Forest Preserve from a move to expand a two-lane road to a massive five-lane quasi-expressway. And he laments the fact that Chicago is falling behind  in street trees.

“We have one of the worst canopy covers of any large city in the country,” he claims. The Emerald Ash Borer has killed, Adelmann claims,  “16-17% of the trees on public lands, parkways and boulevards you know, ash, so that’s huge… But also we don’t have really good policies in place and it’s a concern. There’s some talk that we have lost tens of thousands of trees in the last eight years, net loss. My organization cares deeply as you know about the urban forest, not just in the city but also throughout the region… Back pre-Mayor Daley under Mayor Byrne and she did some really good things…But on the urban forest she wasn’t very good. She slashed the budget. Professional people left. There were no policies in place. We did a study and we documented that there was a net loss of about 100,000 trees over a ten-year period in the city.”

You can watch the show by tapping the image above.

You can listen to the show on Soundcloud here.

You can read a full transcript of the show here: CN transcript April 18 2019

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CN April 11 2019

The Klonsky Brothers – Fred and Mike – pay a visit this week to discuss the Lincoln Yards dust-up, and whether Lori Lightfoot got “played” by Rahm Emanuel. At the last minute, it was reported that she acknowledged the vote would go forward – there were more than enough votes – after she extracted from the developers a few more minority/women set-asides.

“She and her team could have played it two different ways” Mike claims. “One is they could have just stayed out of it and then maybe taken ownership of the struggle to change it or tweak it. Everybody knew the votes were there in the council, or she could have tried to do what she did which was to intervene as best she could, try to get a delay on the vote and then when she saw that the vote was going to go their way try to tweak it as best she could, try to build in a better deal for blacks and Latinos and women, which she did you know. Of course the problem is nobody knows what’s in that deal. None of the aldermen who voted for it had even read it, and so what’s going to happen is after she takes office on May 20th, after her inauguration she will get a chance to rework it or renegotiate it as best she can.”

Fred and Mike are solid supporters of Lightfoot, and they’ve been fending off attacks from their left, claiming that Toni Preckwinkle was the more progressive candidate. They defend Lightfoot in this discussion.

They also discuss the nearly one billion-dollar pension hole that Mayor Lightfoot will have  to tackle. And Fred is adamant that the pension payments he and his colleagues receive aren’t the cause of the deficit. It’s the massive obligations to banks to pay off the loans the City had to take out to compensate for the years when the city skipped its payments.

“It’s one out of six dollars goes to the normal cost of the public employee pension,” Fred asserts. “In other words five dollars out of six goes to pay the interest on the debt from the unfunded liability. So the cost, this cost that people are all upset about that goes to public employees whether it’s 3% compounded or 3% simple, it’s a tiny fraction of the amount of money that taxpayers are paying not to retired public employees but to the banks and the institutions that are receiving the interest on the debt because the state didn’t meet their obligations.”

“Why are we wracking our brains about compound interest, asks Mike, “and scared to death to tax the billionaires and the corporate interest in this state?”

Although bills are advancing in Springfield to change Chicago’s school board to some kind of elected system, for most of Lightfoot’s first term the Mayoral control system, in which she appoints the Board, will remain. “What I would like to see in her … school board team and the CEO,” says Fred, “I hope there’s at least a good chunk of people who are educators who know something about education and not the kind of a board we’ve seen under Rahm Emanuel which are opportunist business people making a buck.”

“There should be a left flank in the city council to Lori Lightfoot, Fred demands. ” They should push things that she may not be comfortable in doing and there should be fights. That’s what legislation – that’s what a democratic body looks like.”

We ask the Klonsky’s whether they share the concern Bill Daley raised during his campaign that Chicago must work to rebuild its population back to the three million mark. If that is a priority, then wouldn’t mega-projects lie The 78 and Lincoln Yards help attract new residents? Fred’s response is adamant.

“The loss of population in this city is not white folks on the north side making $150,000 or more. In fact, over the last 20 years we have had an additional 300,000 white folks making $150,000 moving in to the north side and having no problem finding a place to live. You know what I mean? But during that same period of time we’ve lost 300,000, … since Harold Washington we have gone from 1.2-million African Americans in the city down to around 800,000 and we are expected to lose another 200,000 in the next ten years, so Daley is wrong. The problem of loss of population and Mayor Lightfoot has talked about this, that this is not good for the city to lose population but the loss of population is among working-class folks and particularly among African Americans.”

 

Watch the show by tapping the image above.

Listen to the audio here.

Read a full transcript of the show here: CN Transcript April 11 2019

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CN April 4 2019

Delmarie Cobb, Bruce DuMont and A.D. Quig visit the show this week to put Lori Lightfoot’s election into perspective.

Delmarie Cobb has been a political activist and consultant for decades, ands consulted with two aldermanic campaigns this time, including Leslie Hairston in the 5th Ward.

Bruce DuMont has been a political commentator and talk show host, also for decades. He currently hosts Beyond the Beltway.

A.D.Quig reports on all things political for the excellent subscription news service The Daily Line.

The panelists tackle the City Council’s changing composition, as five Democratic Socialists take their seats and some old lions fall by the wayside. If Mayor Lightfoot makes good on her pledge to end aldermanic prerogatives and if she allows more leeway for aldermen to make their own committee selections, the City Council could be come a far more legislative (and interesting) body in the coming years.

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CN March 28 2019

Two discussions this week.

Sarah Karp (WBEZ) leads off with her coverage of alternative schools and the significant role they play in boosting the graduation rate at CPS. Turns out that, although CPS has made important improvements in the past few years, the truth is hidden somewhere in the statistics.

In the second half of today’s show, Kenwood-Oakland Community Organization executive director Jawanza Malone talks with us about the critical need for a community benefits agreement to be hammered out before construction of the Obama Presidential Center gets out of the ground. He also tells us that there’s pretty much no community support for the Tiger Woods-designed PGA golf course in Jackson Park, and he can’t muster the enthusiasm to endorse either mayoral candidate.

Watch the show by tapping the image above.

You can listen to the show here.

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CN March 21 2019

Two separate discussion this week.

First, journalist Audrey Henderson fills us in on the latest developments in the ongoing struggle to site an Obama Presidential Center in Jackson Park. Henderson just wrote an extensive treatment of the process in Next City.

Then Business writer Robert Reed joins us to talk about his recent Chicago Magazine column  entitled “Why a Chicago Casino May Never Happen”.

You can view the show by tapping on the image above. The Robert Reed segment begins at approximately the :30 minute mark.

You can listen to the show here.

 

 

 

 

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CN March 14 2019

It’s a double header this week as we’re visited first by the great Maya Dukmasova (Chicago Reader) and then by former Mayoral candidate Paul Vallas.

Dukmasova expresses some surprise at the strength of the resistance to two big votes yesterday in the City Council. “It’s for the generally spineless City Council that tends to vote 100% with the mayor on whatever he wants – this is a pretty significant amount of opposition,” she reports.

We’re talking about the twin votes on Lincoln Yards on the north riverfront and the Police Academy in West Garfield. Lincoln yards passed 33-14, and the police Academy passed 38-8.

“There’s kind of an interesting mix of people who are sort of progressive and folks who it’s not surprising that they would go ahead and vote no on something the mayor wants. And then, there’s some people who I think are feeling the heat of their upcoming re-election battles on April 2nd. So for the Lincoln Yards deal you had of the 14 no’s, basically half of them were aldermen who face tough re-election battles against more progressive candidates.”

There are plenty of observers speculating that the next City Council may be a bit more progressive, or independent than we’ve seen in our lifetimes. Whether or not the runoffs will prove that theory, Dukmasova credits the activism of a dedicated band of young Chicagoans. “I really think that we should consider the fact that this became an issue purely because of the relentless agitation and organizing of young black and brown kids and community organizers who made this a thing,” she asserts. “They turned this from like a swept under the rug kind of barely announced mayoral initiative that was rolled out on a 4thof July weekend a couple of years ago into a litmus test on progressive values in this election and into really a huge visible battle that’s going to energize, that’s probably energizing a new generation of organizers and activists.”

We point out that, despite the activism, voter turnout, particularly in the West side wards adjacent to the future Police academy, was dismal. So it will require a great deal of stamina for these younger activists to see tangible results from their activism.

“I do think that change and changing power dynamics takes a really long time,” she explains, “and it takes a lot of losses and it takes a lot of experience of coalition building and community organizing and knowing especially on the cop academy how young the people were who were waging that fight, who made that into a battle in the first place. Frankly if I was these aldermen I would keeping my eye on what these folks are going to do next because these battles are not going to be over.”

It’s not directly related, but two aldermen who were defeated in February fell to first-time challengers who were considerably more left-leaning.  “”But,” she adds, ” I think Joe Moore from the 49thWard and Proco Joe Moreno from the 1stWard -both of them voted yes on these deals going out the door – which I just think it speaks to the character of these people whose political careers at this moment are kind of over.”

We ask if she’s observed that there is a slowly-emerging ideological split  between progressives regarding whom to support in the Mayoral runoff.

“Yeah,” she says, “and the progressives who don’t buy that Lori is the progressive candidate or Lori Lightfoot is the progressive candidate, from what I’ve observed it all comes down to the fact that she is not a progressive choice when it comes to criminal justice policy based on her track record which is the only thing she has a track record on…But policing and criminal justice stuff is like only one aspect of this election and I think that the other thing for the progressive kind of that the more left progressive camp out there who is for Toni, I suspect that someone like Carlos Rosa is also looking at Toni Preckwinkle’s record in county government, the policies she’s actually pushed for, the stuff that she’s actually passed, the stuff she’s been a champion on and saying like okay well she doesn’t have like a strangely mixed bag of like a pro-police record and she’s also got these other things going in her favor. The problem of course is there are a lot of people that really don’t see Toni a progressive because of the taxes… ”

We’re just over two weeks away from the Mayoral election as this is recorded, and we asked Dukmasova for, if not an outright prediction, where she thought things were trending.

“I think that people are right to suspect that there’s going to be perhaps an even less turnout. I don’t know if the confusion of 14 candidates is going to be compensated by now there’s only two given that a lot of people aren’t very excited about either of them. What I do think is that Lori Lightfoot’s base is way more excited about her than Toni Preckwinkle’s base. I don’t even know if Toni Preckwinkle has a base frankly, and based on the results of how things shook out between the 14 candidates, her winning only a couple of wards that says a lot about her lack of base… But Lori Lightfoot’s base who most of them are whites, these are white wealthy people who actually aren’t themselves impacted by the city’s discriminatory policing who are looking at her record like oh, this is the person who was Rahm’s police reform or whatever. They are seeing her as a progressive because they don’t actually know what it feels like to be a family member of a person who has been battered or killed by a police officer who then has to stand in front of her and try to make a plea for the police board to do something about it. But those people in her base are very energized. They are working hard. Lori is very diligent about being at every possible public debate to make herself available and Toni has really been digging her heels in and trying to run a much more politically dirty campaign, so I don’t know.”

 


Note: Maya Dukmasova’s interview is the first 30 minutes of this program, and the Paul Vallas interview begins at about 30:00.

You can watch this program by tapping the image above.

You can listen to the discussion here.

You can read a full transcript of this discussion here:CN Transcript March 14 2019


 

Paul Vallas

Paul Vallas believes fervently that the pension funding crisis doesn’t have to be a crisis. He agrees that, over the next four years, the City has to find about billion extra dollars to meet pension payment obligations, but he says that can be done without raising property taxes.

We begin the discussion with  this graph, which was created by  Daniel Kay Hertz at the Center for Tax and Budget Accountability:Screenshot 2019-03-14 06.34.36.png

 

As Hertz says in his narrative: if you take a closer look the benefits themselves aren’t what’s driving the pension debt crisis, rather it’s pension borrowing, a failure to pay in full for the benefits earned in prior years has led to a situation in which the city is not only paying for new benefits every year, but billions of dollars for benefits that were earned in prior years. So our problem isn’t that we’re paying too much in benefits, it’s that because we were irresponsible about making payments for years, we now owe a billion extra dollars in interest to the banks.

First, Vallas says, “they’ve got to bring some sort of financial accountability to the investment practices.” There are hundreds of various funds that invest pension moneys in hopes of using the dividends to augment the pension funds. But that’s not what’s happening, he says.

“First of all there’s no substitution for having some sort of comprehensive agenda in Springfield, right. Now the legislature is moving to enact or to take steps that will bring about the enactment of a progressive income tax increase. There’s going to be a state income tax increase…But the bottom line is if the income tax is going to be increased it’s important that the city protect its share of the local government distributed fund because a portion of all income tax received is supposed to go to local governments. The last time they raised the income taxes they juggled the formula so locals would not get that share. If that happened the city might get another $140-150-million a year.”

“Secondly,” Vallas asserts, “now that we have a Democratic governor they’ve got to stop borrowing or taking or stealing from the corporate personal property replacement tax. The corporate personal property replacement tax was created by the Constitution or mandated to be created by the Constitution to replace the constitutionally-abolished tax on corporate personal property. And about $1.2-billion dollars is allocated to local governments a year. For the last I don’t know five, six or seven years, I don’t know when it got started, they’ve been diverting about $300-million of that money to the state coffers. First of all it’s illegal. Somebody should challenge that. Secondly, of that $300-million $100-million is from Chicago.”

“And you don’t have to do it in a single year,” he continues. “You do it over a period of four years because remember we want to ramp up here. So if you are able to protect a share of new income tax revenue, so local governments would get their share as they have historically, and if you are able to end the illegal diversion of the corporate personal property replacement tax revenues you would have between $250-275-million you know and instead of having a billion dollar net you would have closer to a $700-million net.”

Chipping away at “funding inequities” with the State could get the total down to less than $500 million,  he claims, asserting that reprogramming a City budget that (depending how you describe it) is between 7 and 20 billion a year, can yield a half-billion  that can be used for this purpose. So before the deadline hits, Vallas thinks the billion dollars can be found without new taxation.

It’s a complicated presentation, and Paul Vallas is among the world’s fastest talkers. But he’s offering the two remaining Mayoral contenders his best advice on how to get out from under what he calls the “Sword of Damocles” as one of their first actions.

Watch the show by tapping the image above, and moving the pointer to 30:00.

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CN March 7 2019

 

Willie Wilson and Ja’Mal Green dropped by today for two separate interviews about  the Mayor’s race, a bunch of Aldermanic races, Bernie Sanders and the role each of them is playing in  this important period – after they didn’t make it to the Final 2. Both are planning to endorse either Preckwinkle or Lightfoot. Wilson’s making his official announcement tomorrow, Friday.

You can watch the show, with both interviews, by tapping the image above.

You can listen to the show here.

You can read a full transcript of the interviews here: CN transcript Mar 7 2019

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CN February 28 2019

Here’s our election wrap-up with talk host and political analyst Bruce DuMont and political activist Jacky Grimshaw, who was an advisor to Mayor Harold Washington. The journalists on our panel are two of Chicago’s most respected reporters – The Daily Line’s AD Quig and the Tribune’s Bill Ruthhart.

Tap the image above to watch this show.

You can listen to the audio of this show here.

We’ll be updating this post on Friday with quotes from our panelists.

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CN Feb 21 2019

The “March to Inevitability” edition

Two of Chicago’s most knowledgeable political reporters join us this week for a head-spinning discussion about the crazy municipal election we’re all enduring.

WGN-TV’s Tahman Bradley and the Daily Line’s Heather Cherone say there’s never been an election like this in Chicago – literally. That’s because this is only the second runoff-style election we’ve ever had, and the other one was headlined by incumbent Rahm Emanuel. He led decisively enough that there was never doubt that he and challenger Chuy Garcia would be the two runoff contestants. But this time, with fourteen candidates, the percentages are being sliced so thinly that the final outcomes may be determined by mail-in ballots, and those won’t be counted until perhaps a week after the election. Add to this the fact that at least ten of the aldermanic races are highly contested, and several well-entrenched aldermen could find themselves losing to upstarts.

We talk about how a much younger and more inexperienced Council, possibly in conjunction with a less-experienced mayor – will face the responsibility of redistricting the Council immediately after the 2020 census, and that the widely reported vast reduction in the population of black Chicago could mean the loss of two African-American-majority wards this time.

There’s also an interesting discussion about whether the new Council could become more progressive in its politics as newer, younger aldermen come into their own. But that’s something that very much has to play out over the next two years or so.

Cherone tells us that as she and her colleagues at the Daily Line have interviewed the Mayoral candidates, all have changed the subject or swerved deliberately away from any discussion about specific measures to deal with the looming billion dollar obligation that the next Mayor will have to settle during this next term. And since the solution will require significant tax increases and/or important reductions in benefits, there’s no up-side in discussing the situation in detail at this point (althoughPaul Vallas is given credit for offering some detailed plans.)

Bradley, when discussing the steady, well-funded rise of Bill Daley, utters the phrase that we’ve honored as the title of this edition. Daley’s “March to Inevitability.”

And Cherone, in her own explanation for Daley’s apparent rise to the top, says we all have an innate sense that Chicago is not governable, and that it takes a strong-man figure to hold things together. And that, she says, has a lot of people thinking – hey, maybe we need another Daley.

At the end of the program we ask producer David Resnick to come to the table to explain in detail why there’s so much concern that this election’s results might not be apparent until days after the polls close. We can’t explain it all in this written document, but it’s well worth your time to hear Dave lay it out piece by piece. His appearance begins  at about the :40 minute mark in the program.

You can watch the show by tapping the image above.

You can listen to the audio of the show here:

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CN Feb 14 2019

 

In a searing suite of articles and digital posts over recent months, ProPublica Illinois’ Melissa Sanchez and WBEZ’s Elliott Ramos have laid out for us the particulars of the City’s program to punish “scofflaws” who fail to pay city sticker fines or tickets for red light cams and license plate stickers.

“The city sticker costs between like $90 and $130-something, depending on the size of your car,” Sanchez explains, “but the ticket for not having a city sticker is $200. You don’t pay it on time … it doubles to $400, and then after some time they tack on one more fee so it’s $488 and we found thousands of cases of people getting hit with two, three, four of these in a single day. So you can see how that can quickly add up if you can’t afford to pay it right away.”

“So we focused on those because it’s easier for you to wrap your head around,” she explains. “It’s not like you got a ticket for driving badly or for parking like a jerk. It’s because you did not or could not afford to pay the fee to register your vehicle in the city.”

Ramos explains that every day after the boot is attached to your car the fines escalate. “So you have the tow fee which is $150. Then you have on that same day you get a $20 a day storage fee. On day #5 it goes up to $35 a day, at which point it’s almost a sure that the person is going to lose the car. There’s very few people that are caught up in that cycle that actually get their car out and they just lose it. And when I say lose it it’s held in the impound for about 21 to 30 days and then they sell it to a private contractor.”

And the costs don’t stop even after you permanently lose your car. “On top of everything else that we talked about,” Sanchez continues, “You have to pay the crushing fee even if the city sold the car to the towing company and the towing company could have sold it at auction and made a profit. That doesn’t matter.” The crushing fee is $100.

So at this point, you’ve lost your car, you owe more than you can pay and your credit rating is in jeopardy. Ironically, though, the City may have collected some fines, but it hasn’t really benefitted much either. The real winner, in so many cases, is the private contractor. Again, Elliott Ramos:

“And so the way that the city wrote this contract, which is really really funny because there’s no safeguards built into this, no oversight built into this, is that they just transfer wholesale the assets of these cars as if they are all junkers,” he explains. “I went into the towing data and got the VINs all decoded that says what the make, year, and model of it and some of these were from 2015, 2013, 2012. Any used car dealer will tell you that most of these cars are worth thousands of dollars. Now because of the way that they are transferred the city doesn’t actually retitle them, they get a salvage title on them and then a rebuilt title which the city is like well then it means it’s not worth that much. And like you’re still driving a BMW, like it’s still a newer car.”

Sanchez laments that, as debt and bankruptcy began to soar, the City’s response was to try to insure itself against loss of revenue from citizens who’d declared bankruptcy.

“The debt just exploded after 2011 and what that’s meant is thousands of people are going into bankruptcy each year because that’s one mechanism they have to deal with this,” she tells us.  “It helps them get their licenses back and in the Law Department they hired a guy to deal with this. And what do I mean by deal with it? They hired a guy to figure out some way to keep people from filing for bankruptcy so the city could get money… somebody knows that this is a problem but their response hasn’t been how do we adjust our policies so people aren’t going into debt over parking tickets? Instead their solution is how do we figure out some new legal tactic to keep people from stiffing us? This is kind of how they see it.”

And there’s yet another aspect to City-related tows. We’ve already seen from these reports that 50,000 cars have been booted, towed and sold for scrap by the city since 2011 – just during the Emanuel administration – but Ramos says that’s just a small portion of the total.

“That was just the scofflaws,” he explains. “It’s probably, so I’m literally going to City Hall after this to pick up more records, but the number is probably closer to 150,000 when you include the crime-related tows.”

And this issue of City-induced bankruptcy goes deeper than sticker fees. Ramos tells us that the team is starting to look into a number of unrelated fee escalators, and how they may play some role in Chicago’s declining  population. The City, he says, raised a lot of different fees.

“My colleague today published a story on water shut-offs and it’s the same neighborhoods we’re seeing that were affected like Englewood, Lawndale. We’re seeing the same stuff but also the same neighborhoods that are losing their population. At some point or another someone is going to start connecting the dots that the city may have had a role in creating abject poverty.”

One final note: As a direct result of this series of reports, all fourteen mayoral candidates have said they will work to modify the system of escalating fees, fines and impoundments that have been sending thousands of Chicagoans into bankruptcy.

WBEZ’s story on how quickly a Chicagoan can descend into City-induced bankruptcies is HERE.

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